Jana Nyman at FANTASY LITERATURE not only reviews Peter Beagle’s masterful SUMMERLONG but also interviews Peter Beagle. As an added bonus, the site is giving a way a SIGNED copy of the novel.
Seattle and its surrounding areas are described in loving, careful detail, from the hustle and bustle of Pike Place Market to the colors of the Olympic mountain range. The natural environment is as much an essential character as Abe or Del; orcas and flowers are as deeply affected by Lioness’ presence as the humans she interacts with. Beagle describes flora and fauna with more of a naturalist’s eye than a poet’s, and much of the plot depends on ordinary people doing ordinary things, so it was sometimes easy to forget that the seasons were off-kilter or that a very strange woman had drifted into town. However, the way that the family dynamic between Abe, Del, and Lily shifts over the course of the novel is well-written. The interactions between And and Del, in particular, read as an honest depiction of a relationship shared by two people who have grown older together.
There’s also a very familiar classical myth folded into SUMMERLONG, one that might be obvious to some readers just from reading the jacket copy, but Beagle handles it well and makes the participants accessible and realistic. Lioness’ identity is hinted at early in the text, and it takes a long while for Del and Abe to catch on, but the actual reveal is still enjoyable. That said, the way Beagle involves Lily in that myth could have used more nuance and explanation: her obsession with Lioness is supposed to be special, but her mannerisms establish her as someone who falls into one-sided romantic attachments easily and engages in dramatic over-reactions when situations don’t go her way. Since Abe and Del’s partnership feels so real and fully-lived in, warts and all, Lily seems that much more immature and broad-stroke by comparison.
Ultimately, SUMMERLONG is a pleasurable read, with complicated characters and an excellent portrayal of a specific place and time. Readers who are looking for a mature perspective in fantasy are sure to enjoy this.
Photo by Paul Todisco
SUMMERLONG is a novel in which the ordinary world is colored by fantastic moments. Was it difficult for you to maintain the careful balance between the real and the unreal?
All my work, one way or another, deals with that blur — if that’s the word I want — between the officially real and the supposedly fantastic. My major influence in that way was Robert Nathan, who isn’t widely read these days, I suppose, but who moved through time and the unlikely with an effortless grace that I’ve been trying to duplicate since I first came across his work in college. Sometimes I almost get it right.
I was surprised by how much detail about kayaking and home-brewing you incorporated into SUMMERLONG without ever bogging down the narrative. Are these topics you were already familiar with before writing the novel? And would you mind sharing a little insight into your writing process? Are you the type of writer who has an idea and goes about creating the world which fits that idea, or do you start with a concept and start researching it before you write?
Brewing I know something about, being a great fan of proper dark beer. Delta blues and Piedmont-style guitar I probably know more about, having been one of the few Jewish kids in the 1950s Bronx who knew who Big Bill Broonzy was — not to mention Sonny Boy Williamson and Brownie McGhee. On the completely other hand, to be perfectly honest, I’ve never set foot in a kayak in my life, though I’ve always wanted to. Joanna’s yearning is entirely real to me. My research, such as it is, is a shockingly unorganized mess, but it always begins with voices in my head … the voices of people I’ve never met and don’t yet know. Without the voices, I’m helpless as an artist. I listen for them all the time, and pray that they’ll show up once more.
One random commenter with a U.S. mailing address will win a signed copy of SUMMERLONG!
For more info on SUMMERLONG, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover art by Magdalena Korzeniewska
Design by Elizabeth Story